Horse body language: appeasement & displacement behaviours | Animated Series Episode 7


Horses are often described as flight animals,
however when a horse is faced with a potential threat he has not one, but four behavioural
options available. These four options are fiddling about, freezing, fleeing and fighting.
In this video we are going to principally focus on “fiddling about”. This category
includes both displacement behaviours and appeasement behaviours.
Displacement behaviours are normal behaviour such as self-grooming that occur in an abnormal
context and are useful indicator of anxiety. They are often displayed when a horse is conflicted
between two drives. For example, a horse that is thirsty may scratch his leg instead of
going to drink if a horse that he is scarred of is standing in front of the water. Or a
trick horse may snatch grass while doing a bow in an attempt to calm himself.
Appeasement behaviours are used to appease, to reduce or inhibit aggression and indicate
mild stress. Licking and empty chewing are both appeasement behaviours but unfortunately
are often misinterpreted as relaxation or thought processing. Averting gaze and showing
of the neck are also appeasement behaviours that can misinterpreted as the horse not paying
attention to the trainer when in fact the animal is trying to reduce aggression and
avoid conflict. Other appeasement signals include lateral ears, holding head low, slow
movement, curved approach rather than approaching directly, yawning and blinking.
To be a good horse trainer it is important to learn to spot these subtle changes in your
horse body language and to adjust the situation in order to limit your animal stress. Not
only this is important for the well-being of the animal but displacement and appeasement
behaviours are your chance to fix the problem before the horse has to resort to flight or
fight behaviours, which can lead to serious injuries.
Of course some of these behaviours can occur without the animal being stressed, for example
it is normal for a horse to yawn or scratch once in a while so you must look at the context
in which they occur and if they are accompany by other signals.
If you enjoyed this video, check out the other episodes available in our animated series.
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like to support our work, check out the patreon link in the description below. Have a beautiful
day and I see you in the next video.


10 Responses

  1. Catoki

    December 16, 2016 9:57 pm

    just a quick question… do horses yawn under "positive" stress too? Like if they are anticipating a positive situation?

  2. Bets y

    December 17, 2016 5:49 pm

    Why isn't this introduced to the 'natural' horsemanship world of Parelli and such like? They treat yawning as 'understanding' the concepts! Crazy…. Thank you so much for these videos, they are treasures. I will hope that this becomes normal in the future, that we can be with horses without having to ride them.

  3. Gabriela Francescut

    December 19, 2016 12:59 am

    it is very difficult for me to understand what the person is saying, because of the strong accent…I wish I could because the video is very interesting!

  4. Heather R

    December 19, 2016 8:13 pm

    I would actually put freezing on the other side of fight and flight. Freezing happens most often when fight or flight is not an option, and therefore the horse shuts down. Not to be confused with the horse that will stop, rather than run when startled or scared. Freezing is the inability to fight or flee, hence why it belongs after those two.

  5. Camille Thionville

    November 16, 2017 8:38 pm

    My horse has been purely trained humane, science based training for almost a year now. We've gone back to the beginning because I noticed a shocking amount of these behaviors. We are working on standing with his head forward and really trying to focus on his happiness in the training. It's been four days of doing two five minutes sessions a day like this and he still shows signs like this. He turns his neck away when I go to stroke him, and has constant 'airplane ears' (they're not back but they aren't up, they just sort of hang in an inbetween place). He often yawns after training and licks and chews with an empty mouth. He also hangs his head like he's exhausted. It really makes me feel bad because I have been very careful as to not have ANY aversive a other than natural ones (his donkey pal coming up behind him, or one of the dogs coming around the corner. He seems much more calm in the field than at the house (he is pastured 24/7 but the field is a good 1/8 mile away from the house, which I often walk but sometimes he comes home before I can). He absolutely has to be comfortable at the house before we can go on but I don't know what to do to help him.

  6. Equicate

    June 6, 2019 3:55 pm

    When on a recent course in body work techniques it was suggested that practitioners look out for the blink or lick and chew or yawn as this is a sign of release. Would you agree or disagree. .


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